Archive for July 2005

July 29th, 2005

To-Do It Up

Did you know I’ve been “blogging” for almost a year now? I started in mid-August of 2004, when the finished version of the site went live. I enjoy writing things here, but — save this explanation — I am currently in the midst of a hiatus.

You see, I also enjoy procrastinating. There are a lot of things in real, non-internet life that I’ve needed to do for a while. I remember these specific things at random intervals, but it never seems like a good time to start them, so I just stick them somewhere out of the way, and continue to surf the internet or play my guitar.

Were my brain an office, it would be a mess. Piles of papers and post-it notes and memos everywhere. I’ve been meaning to get to that stuff, believe me. I wish I could at least file it away, but the files are over-stuffed as it is.

Two weeks ago, however, this all changed. We were in New Bern visiting Steph’s family, and I was sleeping in an upstairs bedroom at her grandma’s un-air-conditioned house. By “sleeping,” I mean lying there wide awake…. It was really hot. I opened the windows to let some air in, and, as I was laying there, staring at the ceiling, a window opened for me. This window was not a window of glass and wood, mind you. Rather, it was a metaphorical window. A window of time. Wide-open, distraction-free time.

So I laid there, at the same time going over to the desk in my brain-office and started to casually go through the teetering, five-foot tall stacks of unfinished job applications, design work, car repairs, etc. when, all of the sudden, in blew a gust of worry that none of that stuff was ever going to get done. Shit was flying everywhere. I think I started hyperventilating. (You experienced procrastinators probably know this feeling. I get it once every six months.) I knew the only way I was going to get to sleep that night was to get organized. I sat up and made a list. A “to-do” list. It is long. But you’ll be happy to know that, after I was done, I slept like baby.

I’m trying my hardest to hold myself to this list. In the spirit of really “buckling-down” and “putting my nose to the grindstone,” I’m staying away from recreational internet use. Therefore there will be no updates for a few weeks.

If you’re interested in reading or rereading stuff I’ve written over the past year, I’ve archived it all. This was mainly an exercise to help me learn CSS (That was one of the things on my “to-do” list: learn some CSS. Check.), so it’s not the most thrilling design work I’ve ever done, but it’s all up right here.

As I’ve just finished going through it all and rereading a lot of it, I feel compelled to warn you: most of it is pretty stupid… Except this one. It’s actually pretty funny.

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July 6th, 2005

And This Time, It’s Personal

So here we are. The Fourth of July has past. It’s all downhill from here. Before you know it the back-to-school sale signs will be going up. I still can’t stand the sight of them.

A lot has happened to me so far this summer, and, for one reason or another, I haven’t mentioned a lot of it here. Though most of you know this stuff already, indulge me while I get some things off my chest. (After all, what kind of “blogger” would I be if I didn’t let you in on every sordid little detail of my life?)

My career is in a “transitional phase.” In April I lost my “job.” I say “job” because it was not, technically, a “job.” (A “job” is a 40-hour-a-week position with a company with full benefits. My Dad will go running naked through the streets when one for his children finally gets this kind of “job”…. That child will, of course, be Kevin.) I was an “independent contractor” at the place where I worked. It’s just that I worked exclusively at this place, Monday-Friday, for almost two years, so it felt like a “job.” I learned a lot there and I got pretty tight with the people I worked with. Recently, however, I was very abruptly and permanently “let go” (fired, laid-off, etc.) by the companies owners. Anyway, that’s about all I’m going to say about it for now….

I’ve picked up some other independent contractor work since and I continue to learn more about graphic design everyday, but I’m still hunting for a…“job.”

Also, did you know that ”Gross Profit Minus Business Expenses Equals Net Profit or Loss?” I don’t know what’s so gross about turning a profit, but I do know that I’m becoming my own CPA. Being that I am not very good with organization or with numbers, “CPA” is more likely to mean “Crazy, Punk Artist” or perhaps “Confused, Please Assist” in my case. Regardless, the unavoidable truth is, the more freelance work I do, the more tax forms I have to fill out, and the more I get asked for invoices, and the more I need my own accounting system. This is my goal for the week (which, as you can see, I’m hard at work at). Yesterday I took the IRS online seminar for small businesses and, boy, was it thorough. Extremely thorough. In fact, I’d highly recommend it to all my freelancer friends out there who have six hours of their life to spare. You’ll learn a lot.

For those of you who want to know where I’ve been all summer, I’ll tell you: in my parent’s backyard. I’m not avoiding you. I’ve been helping the family build a new screened-porch off our deck and do yard work and just generally fix up the house. This is good, because I need to put in a certain amount of time working outside every year, and I don’t get many opportunities to do it anymore. I realize this probably sounds suspicious to some of you, but it is not a cop-out because I don’t like hanging out with you. I really, honestly enjoy manual labor. When the warm weather comes I am overcome with the desire to dig and hammer and sweat and get bit my mosquitoes. It has something to do with my parents never buying me a Nintendo, I’m sure. All my personality quirks stem from that.

And those who have seen me in the past few weeks are probably wishing they hadn’t because I won’t shut up about my speeding ticket. I just keep repeating the three following sentences: “I got a speeding ticket in Virginia!” “What am I supposed to do about this speeding ticket I got in Virginia?” And “I’m never driving over 35 mph again! Even on the highway! (Sob).” About a month ago, Steph and I were on our way to visit her family in Hot Springs, Virginia, and I got pulled over for speeding. Not only did I get a ticket, but the State Trooper was convinced that we had marijuana in the car. The trooper called for back-up, which came, then he ordered Steph and I out of her car and over to his car. He had me “assume the position” on his cruiser and patted me down (no shit!), all the while rattling off questions about where we were from and where we were headed. Meanwhile, the other officer was off interrogating Steph. I knew we didn’t have any drugs or weapons on us, but it was still really scary. (I’ve heard stand-up comedians from other races talk about this feeling of nervousness around the police. I think I’m a little closer to understanding it now.) They spent about half-an-hour searching Steph’s car, found nothing, and finally let us go.

As far as the speeding ticket, after a few weeks of phone calls and indecision, I ended up hiring an attorney. I’ve never done this before. It was expensive, but the fact that I could pull out my cell phone, turn to whoever else was in the room, and say “Excuse me, I have to call my lawyer” was pretty cool. My court date was a few days ago, and I did get out of the ticket, under the condition that I go to back to Virginia to attend a day long “Defensive Driving Seminar,” which I’m sure will be very…thorough. I’ll be going up to do that soon (then complaining about it here, shortly after).

One other thing: Kate is taking the GREs in just a few hours. I hope you’ll all join me in wishing her “GRood Luck.” I’ve been telling her “GRood Luck” all morning, but for some reason she’s not laughing. I don’t know what her problem is.

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July 1st, 2005

Holy Smokes

Do I have any fans of the Fuel Injector/Carburetor cleaner out there? You know, it comes in a bottle, promising better gas mileage and a smoother running engine? You add it to a full tank of gas…or at least that’s what the directions on the back of the bottle say to do with it….

The Car Talk guys are always recommending stuff like this to people whose cars are basically lost causes. “Find something with ‘Miracle’ printed on it somewhere,” they’ll say. Their tone suggests that the additive won’t actually do anything, but that, after it’s administered, the problem may diminish for a completely unrelated reason, or the placebo effects may take hold and the problem will disappear in the car-owner’s head, because, after all, they used an additive. A miracle additive.

Driving an old, beat-up, point-A-to-point-B car, I am also a big proponent of additives…. I don’t do a great deal of “regular maintenance” on my car. About once every six months I will change my oil. I check my fluids then too, if I remember. Oh, and I clean out the boxes and bags and clothes and papers that have piled up in my back seat and trunk. And finally, for good measure, I throw in some additives. They make them for your oil and your gas and your coolant, but Fuel Injector/Carburetor cleaner is my favorite. Does it actually improve my gas mileage and make my engine run better? Probably not. But it gives me what I’m looking for: a quantifiable, immediate result that is fun to watch.

Now this won’t happen if you actually follow the directions on the back. You have to do it Dad’s way. First of all, do not even glance at the directions; Dad has never read them. While the car is running, quickly remove the lid for the air filter and pour the entire bottle directly into the carburetor. The engine will gasp and sputter and eventually stall out. Let it sit in there for a good ten minutes. Then try to start the car. Given that you just flooded the engine, this will not happen without a fight. However, when it finally does…wow…. Cascades of black smoke — like the stuff you see billowing out of coal-powered plants in photos from the industrial revolution — will shoot from your tailpipe. And every time you hit the gas, you’ll get more. You’ll feel a tinge of guilt for polluting so heavily, but then you’ll think, “All that crap used to be in my engine,” and this is a great feeling.

I highly recommend this method to anyone else whose car has a carburetor. I guarantee you an hour of driving without a single tailgater behind you.

The night Dad and I first brought my car home, about eight years ago, he decided we should clean the carburetor out in this manner. Kate, Kevin, and I were watching, and, after it started again, we all piled in to take it for a drive. I didn’t know how to drive stick yet, so Dad was driving, running the engine really high, blowing all this stuff out. I remember looking back and seeing this expanse of filthy clouds in our wake.

As we were rounding a corner in our neighborhood, we saw Fr. Wall, the priest from our church…. He was probably about 65 back then. He was in the street helping a woman who was even older out of a car and into her house. My dad pulled up and said “hi” to him. They talked for a few minutes about what was going on with the church…you could see the exhaust was really starting to bother Fr. Wall and the woman. Finally he asked “Bob, is your car ok?” Dad explained what we’re out doing, and with that said “Ok, well, we’ll see you later,” he hit the gas, and, as we took off…bam.

I still remember looking in the rear view mirror and seeing the silhouettes of two figures coughing and frantically waving their hands in front of their faces, as the explosion of smoke engulfed them. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my Dad laugh so hard as when he realized what he had just done. I’m sure all the years of Catholic school and life in the Catholic church had made it clear that you were never, ever supposed to do anything like that to a priest, even accidentally.

To this day, when we recall this story, Dad goes into a fit of laughter so violent that he can barely breathe. Though part of that is probably due to all the smoke inhalation.

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